Discussion Board

Topic: What do we mean by Random

From: John Bonnett
Location: St. Catharines, Ontario
Date: 02/02/2010

Dear Greg,

I just listened to your interview on Tech Nation from a year ago or so when you were promoting City at the End of Time. It was a fascinating interview but one of the points you made that really caught my attention was the proposition that we really don't know what we're talking about when we say something has been "randomly generated." I was wondering if you had a reference or two you could recommend that discusses the limitations of what mean and know about random or contingent states in nature.

Thanks!

John Bonnett
Department of History
Brock University

Re: What do we mean by Random

From: Greg Bear
Date: 02/11/2010

Nothing specific in the way of references, unfortunately, comes to mind right away. A rigorous working definition of randomness is hard to find, however, and of course, random numbers are very difficult to generate efficiently. Radioactive decay does appear to be random, but physicists cannot discount the possibility that there are underlying rules--and thereby hangs the difficulty of making our definitions! If an apparently random set of genes--the so-called Junk DNA--turn out to be very important, and highly conserved, (and they are), then we were mistaken to call them random to begin with. And so on. My suspicions are that randomness if a useful concept up to a point, but has often been severely misapplied in the sciences.

Re: What do we mean by Random

From: qiiiss
Location:
Date: 02/12/2010

I think one needs to start with an understanding of what determinacy is. Although, google and Wiki are always handy...

Re: What do we mean by Random

From: Bill Goodwin
Location: Los Angeles, CA
Date: 02/12/2010

I remember hearing, or reading, the same statement by you, and I echo John's interest.

It's one of the things that makes the Babel in "City" such a fascinating concept--the mysterious relationship between meaning and "noise."

I suppose it's the subjective element that's intriguing. We call "pi" random, although in hindsight it's contingent. The temporal orientation of the investigator is relevant. As randomness increases, so does information content...apparently order and contingency are antithetical to consciousness! Has it occured to you that by treating information as a physical property, you declare yourself a mystic?

Re: What do we mean by Random

From: Steven Becker
Location: San Jose
Date: 02/12/2010

Would Bekenstein-Hawking radiation fit your concept of randomness, or is just an example of something too granular for our current ability to forecast, rather than something truly chaotic?

Thank you

Re: What do we mean by Random

From: Greg Bear
Date: 02/18/2010

That would lead us down the path as well to Many Worlds...

Re: What do we mean by Random

From: Greg Bear
Date: 02/18/2010

Absolutely. A mystic fond of Stochastic resonance.

Re: What do we mean by Random

From: Greg Bear
Date: 02/18/2010

Like any humanly unpredictable process, radiation emerging from a black hole seems to fit any definition of random--but then, Mr. Hawking did hand over the Encyclopedia of Baseball to Mr. Thorne!

Re: What do we mean by Random

From: Steven Becker
Location: San jose
Date: 02/19/2010

Dear Mr. Goodwin,
Your comment inre "As randomness increases, so does information content" is intriguing. Can you comment further on this. It's counter to my intuition, but your earlier comment about noise has my curiosity piqued.

Thanks in advance

Re: What do we mean by Random

From: qiiiss
Location:
Date: 02/25/2010

"That would lead us down the path as well to Many Worlds..."

Hmh hmh hmh - and, that statement could be a preface to your next...


"Absolutely. A mystic fond of Stochastic resonance."

Look up Iannis Xenakis.

Re: What do we mean by Random

From: Greg Bear
Date: 03/04/2010

Have many Xenakis recordings.

Re: What do we mean by Random

From: Bill Goodwin
Location: Los Angeles, CA
Date: 03/07/2010

Steven (and anyone interested),

It takes more information to represent a random arrangement than an orderly one. It's harder to quantify a scribble, for instance, than a precise grid, or the position of molecules in a gas than in a crystal. A text file like this message can be sent faster to than a scan of my actual handwriting--the human-generated script would contain much more information because of all its random nuances.

Run time backwards to the Big Bang, and you have a universe that can be described with very little information. It's in a highly ordered state. Run it forward and things get more arbitrary--the shape of galaxies or the pattern of muffin crumbs on your breakfast plate.

So more order equals less information. But it does seem counterintuitive, and that's an interesting thing.

I say order is antithetical to consciousness because it leaves less for consciousness to do.

When we digitize something, we establish an arbitrary threshold and say we're not interested in any information below that level. It's beyond the range of our sensations, or irrelevant to our purpose in some other way. We call it "noise" and try to remove it.

If our perceptions were more discriminating, we might want that information back. It would become relevant again.

Take two "random" series of numerals: one completely meaningless, and the other, a decimal notation of "pi." The former has no "life" beyond the values that make it up. But the latter has a sort of soul--an analog existence at work "between the digits." I'm being poetic, of course. A biologist or radio astronomer would speak of noise in some other way.

Naturally that soul is one's own. The latter series is meaningful insofar as it remains consistent with one's INTENTION to describe a relationship that is intuitively understood. Were the scope of intentionality to increase without limit, noise would become a useless concept. Everything would be significant. To borrow from Poe: "The plots of God are perfect."

Noise has another name: Thought. Our inner world "boils" out of randomness, in a noncausal fashion that would seem to compliment the increasing entropy of consensual (read: digital) reality.

Seen this way, free will becomes a necessary and inevitable corollary to historical time. It takes over from Hawking's "imaginary time" as the universe complexifies. A picture emerges of a cosmic career whose beginning is compulsory, yet whose end is intention-dependent. So you get Stapledon's supreme moment or Teilhard de Chardin's omega point (interesting that those men were born at the same time).

Bacteria use transcription noise to cope with rapid change, yes? Higher animals start going nuts without dream-sleep. The fabric of reality starts getting wonky in Blood Music's "over-observed" world. Do we sleep because life doesn't stand up to prolonged scrutiny? Must Ishanaxade do her mending during our dreams, if we are to start the new day with faith in our own existence intact? Does the so-called "theory of mind" really make sense (Godel would say no)?

The upside is the possibility of life being forced into a transcendant dimension. Turn out the lights and the seance works. Stop thinking and you make the shot. HAL, an all-seeing being, goes crazy, and Dave must be reborn. One instant of time yields to the next--ah, the eternal blossoming of time! (Or is it just the coffee?)

Re: What do we mean by Random

From: Andrew Carpenter
Location: France
Date: 03/14/2010

If I had the cash to be random, then I'd be like Arthur Rimbaud;..take off and forge a new identity totally obverse and precluded from my former life.

I'd re-invent myself in a different guise and walk until my feet fell through my shoes.. Greg, to me, being "Random" in Spirit is a close cousin to anarchy in its purest form!

I personally want Government to devolve power to the people, whilst recognising that most people can't even wipe their own bottoms. I have no answer to randomness..however synchronicity seems to have a place it time and motion..

Cheers

Andrew

Re: What do we mean by Random

From: Greg Bear
Date: 03/26/2010

Excellent points. Consider the feeling-forward of all alternate pathways by particles, and the collapse of the function to the least energy path. Is this a kind of decision making? Is it a reduction of disorder? Or is it a discipline imposed upon reality, that must not be reversed without "reinventing" at great expense all those unselected and vanished paths?

Re: What do we mean by Random

From: Greg Bear
Date: 03/26/2010

Hm. Chaos is not good for children and other living things... Or is it? In small measures, carefully applied, but then it isn't chaos... It's play. The first order of government is to prevent chaos, but allow play.

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